A Strange Ingredient for Sustainable Farm Fertilizer

As scientists have searched for a sustainable slow-release fertilizer, an ingredient used in some diarrhea medicines may prove to be the answer.

Sustaining global food productions when populations are increasingly on the rise has led scientists to search for a sustainable slow-release fertilizer. A new report in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research states that an ingredient used in diarrhea medicines has been found to contain attapulgite, a substance known to be a “carrier” for plant nutrients.

Boli Ni, a researcher of the study, and colleagues explain that half of the fertilizer used worldwide goes to waste each year because nutrients are released too fast for crops to use. The remaining fertilizer tends to run off farm fields and create water pollution. The existing slow-release fertilizers have their own drawbacks, so Ni’s team began to search for an environmentally friendly alternative.

During their study, the researchers found that attapulgite, nutrient-rich clay used for treating diarrhea and other ailments for decades, proves to be an effective, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly solution. The team also included guar gum, a humic acid from decayed plant material used in cosmetics and to thicken certain foods, in their research.

In the report, the development and successful testing of a new fertilizer made from those ingredients was described. The slow-release pellets were easy to prepare, reduced nutrient loss via runoff and leaching, improved soil moisture content, and regulated soil acidity and alkalinity.

“All of the results indicate that it may be expected to have wide applications for sustainable development of modern agriculture,” the scientists say.

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